Federal lawsuit in wrongful conviction case advances

By Kate Jacobson | Oct 28, 2016

SHREVEPORT — Despite a recent state decision denying a hearing for a compensation case of a wrongfully convicted man, two federal lawsuits filed by the man's estate are forging ahead.

The Louisiana Supreme Court said it would not take up the case determining whether the family of Glenn Ford – a man who was exonerated after serving nearly 30 years on death row – is due compensation for his wrongful conviction. Two federal cases alleging his constitutional rights were violated as a result of his wrongful conviction and subsequent incarceration await a decision, and experts say the state's decision will probably have no bearing.

Louisiana State University law professor Ken Levy said while state courts decide on cases that impact other lawsuits sitting in front of federal courts, they are not bound by those decisions.

"Courts want to be respectful of each other, but that doesn't mean higher courts won't tell lower courts they're wrong," Levy told the Louisiana Record. "Each decision is an influence, but not binding." 

Ford filed two lawsuits in federal court before he died in June 2015. The first is a wrongful conviction case, and the other is a lawsuit claiming he had poor medical care and treatment during his confinement in prison that ultimately cause him to die.

He died of terminal lung cancer 13 months after his release that his attorneys say was exacerbated by receiving no treatment in prison.

Ford was convicted of murder in 1984 after store owner Isadore Rozeman was found shot dead in his store. In 2013, evidence was submitted to the court that implicated two others in the crime, and in 2014, Ford had his conviction and sentence vacated.

But because Ford had committed other crimes during the murder, namely that he was in possession of stolen goods belonging to the deceased, a Louisiana trial judge ruled he shouldn’t receive compensation for his wrongful conviction.

The state Supreme Court upheld that decision this month.

“All along, we believed that Mr. Ford was not innocent of the criminal activity that took place on the day of Mr. Rozeman’s murder,” attorney general spokeswoman Ruth Wisher told the Louisiana Record. “We are pleased with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision affirming our position and agreeing with the Second Circuit’s decision to not compensate Mr. Ford.”

Federal law doesn’t have that standard when considering wrongful conviction cases.Court documents show Ford's estate argues his constitutional rights were violated, meaning the case is under federal jurisdiction. 

Levy said it's possible Ford's attorneys knew Louisiana law would be unfavorable to them for compensation and filed federal lawsuits, as well as took state action. He said it's also possible they're filing the federal suit as a chance to show how Louisiana's laws aren't fair to those wrongfully convicted.

"I think it's a combination of having unfavorable laws here and not being bound by those laws in a federal court," he said. "This is a great example of how these laws can create an injustice."

Court documents show Ford's estate is hoping to receive compensation at the federal level for the wrongful conviction. Attorneys representing the estate declined to comment. 

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Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal Louisiana State University Louisiana Supreme Court

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